American Idol: Flying down to San Diego
Welcome to American Idol, the Top Gun edition.
Perhaps somebody on the production team figured the best way to strike fear into the hearts of The Voice crew was to hold auditions surrounded by the militaristic might of an aircraft carrier.
Hopefuls paraded in front of Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson on the deck of the USS Midway. It's docked in downtown San Diego as a floating museum, but Ryan Seacrest reminded us that it's "74,000 tons of American steel and the pride of the U.S. navy for 47 years.
"We're putting her back in commission as central command for the American Idol auditions."
The setting was pleasant enough, with the judges' backs to the open deck and sunshine pouring into the space, but noise from passing jets and cruise ships made it an inefficient one. Plus, we saw the fewest number of auditions so far, just nine, despite the highest number of people from a single city getting put through to Hollywood: 53.
And the first of those was a throwaway: a sushi waitress from Columbus, Ohio, named Jennifer Diley tackled Jessica Simpson, then Mariah Carey. The singing was awful, but she was there to show off in her red, white and blue bikini. Producers even gave us two looks at her butt cheeks disappearing up the stairs to the audition deck, pretending that the first take hadn't worked.
It wasn't the most auspicious way to start off two days of auditions that the judges said produced many great singers. Apparently the kinder, gentler Idol still has room for sexism.
Luckily, Ashley Robles made up for Ms. Diley's shortcomings. Not that Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" is normally a sound choice for an audition song, but Ashley, a 26-year-old single mom, insurance account manager and DJ from San Diego, had the pipes to pull it off. She even hit the monster high note in the chorus but dialled it back at the end and finished soft.
"Ashley Robles, you're gonna be big," Steven declared before the judges all shouted yes at the count of 3 to send her to Hollywood.
Next up was Jayrah Gibson, 26, described as an artist from Long Beach, Calif. He had all the earmarks of a delusional auditioner, what with his earnest talk about his "life goal" of being the next American Idol, the way he bounded into the audition enclosure like an overexcited puppy and the lightweight ditty he had written for JLo called "Shake Your Money Maker."
It turns out whoever told Jayrah that he couldn't write, but he could sing, was onto something. He displayed a pleasant R&B voice on Musiq Soulchild's "Just Friends" that had Randy saying, "I thought you were mad, mad good." Jayrah got three yeses, but JLo said she wants to hear him sing melodic songs as well as rhythmic ones.
Of the remaining six highlighted on the episode, the two guys struck me as the best.
Kyle Crews, 19, of San Diego seemed like a big overgrown kid with his boyish face, curly hair and geeky checked shirt, and his talk of hanging out with his fraternity brothers at the University of California, Berkeley, but he has a nice tenor voice, displayed on a rendition of Monica's "Angel of Mine." Steven told him it was the best male voice the judges had heard, but "you got to lose the shirt." Agreed, at least about the shirt part.
Also to my liking was Jason "Wolf" Hamlin, 24, a golf course mechanic from Livermore, Calif., who showed up in his blue mechanic's shirt. He was a little goofy, howling for the camera, but his singing voice made up for any awkwardness.
I'm not sure why Steven told him to sing something else after a respectable rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Midnight Special," but I'm glad he did. His "Folsom Prison Blues," done with the aid of the guitar that Wolf's late father made him, was even better. Hope he brings it like that in Hollywood.
As for the rest, Aubree Dieckmeyer and Ali Shields were both good, not great, and kind of dippy.
Aubree, a 20-year-old receptionist from San Clemente, Calif., couldn't seem to decide what show she was auditioning for, telling the camera her mom was supporting her dream of "becoming a singer and America's Next Top Model." She had a nice way with Michael Buble's "Feeling Good," although she was thin in the upper registers.
Ali's claim to fame was appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show after she wrote a song for Ellen and getting kissed by Usher and Mike Posner on the red carpet at the American Music Awards. She has an interesting tone to her voice, displayed on Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like a Star." The 19-year-old student from Lodi, Calif., is also quite the live wire, opening the audition by rapping the cleaner bits of Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now" and demonstrating a credible booty pop. I'm a little worried that she wants to kiss Steven Tyler, though. Does she realize he's 63?
It's been a while since we had a celebrity's kid turn up, but there was Jane Carrey, daughter of Newmarket-born actor/comedian Jim Carrey, plus a mother and waitress. It was like old home week with JLo, who remembered seeing a very young Jane on the set of In Living Color when Jennifer was a Fly Girl (which she apparently still is to Idol, since that's the title they gave her at the beginning of the episode).
Jane got constructive criticism - keep your eyes open and connect with the audience, from JLo; work on your volume, from Steven - but got three yeses nonetheless after singing Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About." Dad Jim wasn't there to share the good news, but we got to listen in on Jane's cellphone call. "I can't wait for the world to understand what she has inside her,"her proud dad said.
We also had a very brief look at another Jane, Jane Childers, 26, from Huntington Beach, Calif., whose successful audition served mainly as a segue into a bit about all the noise the judges had to put up with, including the loud boat horn that interrupted Childers.
There was obviously a lot we didn't see, though, including the shirtless guy who was part of a promo for the episode and Canadian dancer Alex Wong, who auditioned on crutches. All we know is that Alex, who famously and heartbreakingly had to leave So You Think You Can Dance a couple of seasons ago after an Achilles tendon injury, got a ticket to Hollywood.
That's it for Idol until Wednesday night and the Aspen, Colo., auditions, airing at 8 p.m. on CTV. I'll be watching and recapping, as usual.
(The photo of Steven, Ryan, Jennifer and Randy is by Michael Becker for Fox. Sorry to say there were no shots available from the episode due to an apparent technical error on Fox's website.)